Two Filmmakers Take on the U.N. for Letting Cholera Spread in Haiti
Picture the scene: Under the scorching sun, a Haitian teenager steps up to bat, nails a ball into the outfield, rounds the bases, and slides into home through the parched, shin-high grass of his team’s makeshift baseball diamond. David Darg and Bryn Mooser, two American aid-workers-turned-filmmakers, look on with cameras. And in homes nearby, a deadly cholera outbreak claims another victim.
“We were immersed in this horrific disease that had taken over Haiti,” says Darg, who, along with Mooser, was planning to make a documentary about the success of the little league they helped start—Haiti’s first. “So in the day we were fighting cholera, and in the evenings we were playing baseball with the kids,” a way to help youth, restless in the camps for families displaced by the 2010 earthquakes, stay out of trouble.
But as cholera crept into the lives of their players’ families, it became impossible to separate business from pleasure, the day job from the passion project. The resulting documentary “Baseball in the Time of Cholera,” is a raw look at the cholera epidemic tearing through Haiti, primarily through the eyes of Joseph Alvyns, a baseball player who lost his mom to the disease.
Rather than pile onto the narrative of Haiti being a hopeless cause, a country whose problems are so massive and endemic that nothing really can be done, the documentary works to shed light on the injustice incurred against the Haitian people during the aftermath of the earthquake. Sure, diseases like malaria and tuberculosis are nothing new in Haiti, but cholera was imported, hitching a ride in the intestines of United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal, who disposed of their camp’s raw sewage in a water source used for bathing and drinking.
"It’s a scandal that this was happening in Haiti," according to Darg. "It’s a tragedy that 7,000 people have been killed." Now Darg and Mooser are hoping that their short documentary, which showed at the Tribeca Film Festival and made its public release online today, can help raise awareness for what Darg calls a "man-made disaster at the hands of the world’s largest organization."
The United Nations still hasn’t admitted to any wrong doing, despite the fact that epidemiologists have matched the strain of cholera in Haiti with one in Nepal and that the Nepali peacekeepers weren’t screened for the disease before entering Haiti. The anger on the ground in Haiti erupted into riots in the fall of 2010, and lawyers have responded with a lawsuit against the UN. “The UN mission brought us cholera,” Mario Joseph, one of the lawyer’s representing victims, says in the film. “They never brought the peace in Haiti. They’re called peacekeeper. They don’t bring the peace.”
The UN currently spends $800 million per year for peacekeeping. Darg says that $100 million would pay for 90 percent of the sanitation and water infrastructure needed to stem the epidemic. Just $40 million could vaccinate the whole country against cholera.
But, Darg says the UN can help undo some of the damage its done: by acknowledging its responsibility for the epidemic and taking steps to make sure something like this won’t happen again. “The good thing about the solution here is it’s very tangible,” Darg says. “We’re not talking about some arbitrary schemes for financial development. We’re talking about bricks and mortar. Wells need to be drilled. Community water systems need to be installed. If they don’t happen, it’s apparent.”
The campaign for justice is called UNDeny and asks participants to share the film, sign a petition asking the UN to take ownership of the problem, and donate toward water sanitation and infrastructure development through nonprofits on the ground. Take the first step by checking out the powerful film